Strength and power can improve your BJJ game if you gain the knowledge and skill of when to use them effectively. (Refer to Blog: Why Strength Training IS important for the Serious BJJ Athlete).
Next, you must understand that strength and power are not the same thing. Strength identifies the maximum amount you can lift regardless of speed. Power is how fast you can move a given amount of weight from Point X to Point Y. (For this example of how to develop strength and power, I will be using the deep back squat as a baseline). Let’s say two people have a max strength of 300 pounds. Person A can complete 3 reps in under 5 seconds at 150 pounds. Person B can complete 3 reps under 5 seconds at 275 pounds. Person A and Person B have the same max strength level, but Person B has significantly more power. Three deep back squats of 275 pounds under 5 seconds tells me that Person B’s power threshold is very close to his/her overall strength threshold. Power can never exceed overall strength. To increase power, improve the speed of your deep back squats without losing correct form.
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Here is the best kept secret. Most people believe they are developing strength and power by doing 3 sets of 8-12 reps (or more), what is known as hypertrophy training. Hypertrophy training has the benefit of making you look very strong and big. Arnold Schwarzenegger made this type of training very popular worldwide. Hypertrophy training does help you get marginally stronger, but the result is bigger cells and heavier muscles. Hypertrophy training takes the cell expanding it outward using pressure during the 6th , 7th, and 8th reps, all the way up to the 12th rep. Size isn’t everything. Looks are deceiving. Bigger doesn’t mean stronger or more powerful. We see many examples of smaller BJJ fighters winning matches against bigger fighters. If you weigh more and are only marginally stronger, that is not good for your BJJ game. Additionally, the extra bulk in the muscles makes flexibility more difficult as many become muscle bound. If you lose mobility, you will lose BJJ technique.
For serious BJJ athletes, I recommend training specifically for strength and power, not to increase in size. I recommend workloads based on 3 reps with power being a main emphasis. If your focus remains on form and mobility, deep back squats are an excellent vehicle to create strength but not bulk retaining the flexibility to perform excellent technique.
Every muscle cell is fed to your brain through your axon. Your axon is the firing pin that stimulates the muscle. It says, “Hey muscles, it’s time to work.” The axon is surrounded by another tube, the myelin sheath. If you have an issue with your myelin sheath, you could experience numbness, burning, stinging, or radiating pain (Often called a stinger, LOL, we all know what this feels like!). When this happens, your myelin sheath has been compromised. When you follow the 1% Better Every Day, Ricky Lundell Guide to Strength Training, your axon and myelin sheath will become better at firing impulses faster.
With this method, your muscle cells won’t break down all the way or expand to grow bigger. You will recruit more cells and grow your myelin sheath thicker. The more myelin you build, the faster the bullet (impulse) can go through the gun (from the brain to the muscle), resulting in all of your cells firing at the exact same moment recruiting more muscles at once. When you hit the arm bar with flawless technique firing all your muscle fibers at once, you perfect the use of leverage. Remember that levers have three parts: load, fulcrum and effort. Every BJJ technique is comprised of these three parts. Don’t ignore effort, another name for strength and power. Remember: The opportunity to submit an opponent is only possible in the lifetime of that given opportunity.
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If you were on a teeter-totter bouncing slowly, nobody flies into the air. But if you jump with strength and power, 100% of your weight (plus the speed of your fall) is then inserted into the lever and whoever is on the opposing end of that teeter-totter will be launched into the air. That’s what happens inside of BJJ techniques. If I put you in an arm bar using perfect technique, unless I submit you in a certain time frame, you can escape. Having the ability to exert force (power) quickly makes you an elite BJJ practitioner setting up the technique and locking it before your opponent can mount an escape.
Warning: Never use strength or power until your technique is fully set up and flawless. If you use strength to set up leverage (technique), you will never get great at the transitions required to set up a submission. I do recommend developing strength and power as you develop technique. The mature BJJ practitioner knows when to transition and when the right moment is to use strength and power. My final advice: It’s better to have strength and power and not use them than to need strength and power and not have them available.
p.s. As always, remember to follow your academy’s rules. Stay strong out there, my friend.
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